It’s here. Google Maps is back on iOS. Since the release of iOS 6, Google Maps has not been on any iOS devices, and Apple’s in-house solution was less than stellar. Google has not only replaced the missing functionality that was in iOS 5, but it has also brought along many oft-requested features such as voice-guided turn-by-turn directions bringing greater parity between Google Maps for iOS and Google Maps for Android. Has Google outdone itself with this app, or does Apple Maps reign Supreme? Read on to find out.
With the last few app releases, Google has really shown that it is fully capable of designing a good iOS app, and Google Maps is no different, I skipped right through the instructions, and I have still been able to find my way around the app. This is a great testament as to how intuitive the app is. A simple pull toggle is located at the bottom right of the application that pulls out the main options you might need while using the app, options such as satellite view, traffic and public transit directions. One odd and slightly annoying option is that for Google Earth. If you would like to have access to a 3-D “flyover-type” feature in Google Maps, you must leave the app and go into Google Earth. Its not really a huge deal, but it certainly makes for a slightly disjointed experience. There is a simple search bar at the top, and if you want more information on a specific location or business, you just pull up on its name.
Google Maps truly excels at exactly what Apple is most lacking: business databases. Google simply has more location data than Apple, and it is apparent in Maps. Say I want to see the businesses in a local shopping center, Google Maps will even show the shape of the building, whereas Apple Maps is missing the road it’s on. I assume that eventually Apple will gather more (and more accurate) data, but as it stands now, there are some woefully bad locations in Apple Maps, and I have not yet experienced a “small” error either, when Apple Maps messes up, it has usually been off by miles, not feet. I have even almost replicated this scenario from The Office, not a typical experience with an Apple product, that is for sure.
Turn-by-turn navigation was the single largest feature that (Pre-iOS 6) Maps was missing, Android has had navigation built into the OS since the launch of the Motorola Droid/Milestone back in October of 2009, over 3 years ago. Now that iOS users have all gotten used to Apple’s turn-by-turn, how does Google’s solution compare?
Quite well, but with 2 faults.
These are not so much Google’s fault either. The are plenty of features afforded to Apple’s Maps that I think that Google simply does not have access to. For example, I always have music playing (through Spotify) on phone when I am driving, and with Apple’s Maps transitioning to voice guidance from Music playback is a seamless and nice experience, the music fades into the background while my next move is told to me. With Google Maps, voice guidance is a choppy, terrible mess. Frequently, the app would only fade the music for a split second, barking quickly “turn” and then fading somewhere between voice guidance and music. Then at (optimistically) a few feet from the street I am turning on, I will get a direction and street name, both presented in awkward snippets, not coherent phrases.
Another feature that I have grown accustomed to in Apple’s Maps that Google just doesn’t have (again, I am sure this is due to a lack of access granted from Apple) is being able to hijack my lock screen. In Apple Maps, I can lock the phone and still see a live readout of my progress to my next maneuver. Google has tried to replicate this with a push notification, but the font on the notification is just too small to read quickly, drawing my eye away from the road for far too long to be considered safe.
Overall, I think that Google Maps for iOS is a great app as an alternative to Apple’s solution. I think that the music playback/voice guidance issue is so unbearable, that I will try to avoid the feature altogether. Other than that, Google has built a very capable and frankly much needed free alternative to Apple’s Maps with great data, and good turn-by-turn. Go get it right now, it’s free.